Speaking with Rook about his article on Nick Young and the fact that we both compare Sushi to Rip Hamilton got me thinking. If Nick is a rich man's Rip Hamilton, then the Wizards might already have a few parts of their next championship squad in place.
The only player guaranteed to be on the team next year and beyond is John Wall, but the most efficient way to build a contender is not trade all our assets for a 2nd superstar. I am not saying that trading all our assets for a star is necessarily the wrong move, but the most solid and fastest way to build is keep some of the current parts. With that in mind, I see possibly 3 parts of this future championship roster already here: Wall, Nick, and JaVale McGee.
Nick's similarity to Rip Hamilton made me immediately think of the 2003-2004 Pistons, who were the only team in recent memory to win a title without one of the top-5 or even top-10 players in the league (also a team that used 3 former Bullets in their starting 5...kill me). That team succeeded with a remarkably strong and balanced starting 5, not unlike the current Boston Celtics, which is in stark contrast to the Heatles. We are still unsure of Wall's ceiling, but every team should have a vision of how to construct their roster, and I think those Pistons are a great model for the Wizards to follow. I also think that in a league where teams are trying to put superstars together, a different approach could prove to be an advantage. I will now try to play Ernie Grunfeld and figure out how the Wizards can actually emulate those Pistons......
We may have a better version of Rip and a PG likely to surpass the impact and production of Chauncey Billups (all rookie PGs struggle on D, so Wall's defensive numbers are not a concern in terms of matching Billups), so this title team is off to a great start! Now, what about the remaining starting spots?
I will be taking a few leaps in this analysis, so bear with me. My first big leap is that JaVale McGee develops, particularly on the defensive end. I don't think JaVale will ever reach the defensive heights of Ben Wallace, but I see similarities in both being good athletes suited to put backs and alley-oops offensively (wait, did Big Ben ever play offense, or did he just wait back on defense?), and being a presence defensively. While Big Ben was a great individual and team defender, if JaVale can channel his shot blocking abilities, he can at least be a great presence in the middle. I know team defense is a skill that can be learned, like just about all others, but I can't imagine JaVale making the leap from where he is now with consistent lapses in concentration to being the ultra-focused quarterback of a great defense. The difference between the two players defensively can be partly offset by JaVale's offense, but Wallace is the stronger contributor overall.
Fortunately, the Wizards seem to have edges at PG and SG, so the dropoff from Big Ben to skinny JaVale may be offset. I know you are probably thinking that Billups+Hamilton+Wallace>Wall+Young+McGee, but our guys are still growing and again, bear with me. If these 3 Wizards can provide similar production in aggregate to the comparable Pistons players, then how do the Wizards fill the remaining and less obvious roster holes?
I will work backward from the center spot, as that's the Wizards biggest hole in this scenario. The Pistons PF was former Bullet Rasheed Wallace. Sheed was a great 2-way player and the guy who put that team over the top after he was acquired during the season.
My initial reaction is that JaVale lacks the strength of Ben Wallace, and the Wizards version of Sheed should thus be a bit more of a 'banger.' This idea doesn't work though because the Wizards PF would not suddenly be guarding centers while JaVale guarded PFs. I think the bigger issue is that I have a hard time seeing JaVale as the quarterback of a great team defense. I know the same sentiment could have been said even more strongly for a young Ben Wallace, but barring an almost equally impressive leap by JaVale, the Wizards PF will have to be a great team and individual defender. With that in mind, Sheed only contributed about 14 ppg while shooting 44% or less, so the Wizards PF does NOT have to be a huge offensive contributor. I am thinking draft is the way to go to find this player. Whoever this player is may not even be in college yet, but the guy who stands out to me is Jared Sullinger, who would definitely provide enough offense, but may have trouble staying with quicker/smaller PFs one-on-one. Color Rook skeptical.
I think the SF spot is the toughest one to fill when the comparable Pistons player is the longtime underrated Tayshaun Prince. He was only in his 2nd season when Detroit won the title, but was already an elite defensive player. He managed 4.6 WS in 2003-2004, which is better than all but 1 year each of Ron Artest's and Bruce Bowen's careers (and my minimal research didn't yield anyone that consistently good on D). So to match the Pistons, the Wizards have to find an absolute defensive beast of a SF. In terms of who is in the NBA right now and might fit this mold and is reasonably obtainable, I have Gerald Wallace, Arron Afflalo, and not much else. The good news is that maybe, if the Wiz have a horseshoe up their butt, Trevor Booker could develop into an elite defensive stopper. His offensive game is very different from Prince's perimeter style, which could cause problems as that would leave this Wizards lineup with almost no perimeter shooting, but the defense is what's important here.
I know what you're thinking. Jon, you're crazy, a Wall-Young-Booker/Prince clone/Sullinger/McGee is laughably awful. But let's remember that all of these guys are going to improve and I am taking a very optimistic view on each one's development. The bigger issue is that this Pistons team was just such an outlier from how just about every other championship team has been constructed. An old 82games.com article shows that every title team has an all-NBA first teamer or all-NBA defensive first teamer. Ben Wallace was the only person to fit this criteria on the Pistons, and his impact on that team cannot be understated. I am not sure John Wall will ever be a top-5 player in this league (or top-8 in efficiency); he will battle Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, etc for the the honor of being the top PG, and that is just a ridiculous group of young talent. I don't think having the 6th versus 5th best defensive player in the league will make a huge difference, as the 82games.com article suggests, but this underscores the great flaw in my Wizards model being JaVale McGee playing the role of Ben Wallace.
Maybe the Pistons team model wouldn't work anymore, maybe the Wizards trade the house for a 2nd star to pair with Wall, and maybe we don't find the right coach even if we get the right mix of players, but at least this would give our rebuilding efforts a direction, and one that may not be so crazy.